“Waiting and Living by Faith” is a Tim Keller sermon that I have found very helpful. One of the illustrations in the sermon comes from the novel Jane Eyre (public domain via Project Gutenburg) by Charlotte Bronte. I’ve never read the book but there is a summary of the plot on SharpNotes.
Jane has had a horrible life but now she’s fallen in love with a man (Rochester) who much to her surprise asks to marry him. She agrees but at the wedding it is revealed that Rochester cannot marry because he is in fact already married to a mentally ill woman. In this scene Rochester begs her forgiveness at the deceit and pleads with her to live with him, to make his life complete.
“I resumed my notice of you. There was something glad in your glance, and genial in your manner, when you conversed: I saw you had a social heart; it was the silent schoolroom–it was the tedium of your life–that made you mournful. I permitted myself the delight of being kind to you; kindness stirred emotion soon: your face became soft in expression, your tones gentle; I liked my name pronounced by your lips in a grateful happy accent. I used to enjoy a chance meeting with you, Jane, at this time: there was a curious hesitation in your manner: you glanced at me with a slight trouble–a hovering doubt: you did not know what my caprice might be–whether I was going to play the master and be stern, or the friend and be benignant. I was now too fond of you often to simulate the first whim; and, when I stretched my hand out cordially, such bloom and light and bliss rose to your young, wistful features, I had much ado often to avoid straining you then and there to my heart.”
“Don’t talk any more of those days, sir,” I interrupted, furtively dashing away some tears from my eyes; his language was torture to me; for I knew what I must do–and do soon–and all these reminiscences, and these revelations of his feelings only made my work more difficult.
“No, Jane,” he returned: “what necessity is there to dwell on the Past, when the Present is so much surer–the Future so much brighter?”
I shuddered to hear the infatuated assertion.
“You see now how the case stands–do you not?” he continued. “After a youth and manhood passed half in unutterable misery and half in dreary solitude, I have for the first time found what I can truly love–I have found you. You are my sympathy–my better self–my good angel. I am bound to you with a strong attachment. I think you good, gifted, lovely: a fervent, a solemn passion is conceived in my heart; it leans to you, draws you to my centre and spring of life, wraps my existence about you, and, kindling in pure, powerful flame, fuses you and me in one.
“It was because I felt and knew this, that I resolved to marry you. To tell me that I had already a wife is empty mockery: you know now that I had but a hideous demon. I was wrong to attempt to deceive you; but I feared a stubbornness that exists in your character. I feared early instilled prejudice: I wanted to have you safe before hazarding confidences. This was cowardly: I should have appealed to your nobleness and magnanimity at first, as I do now–opened to you plainly my life of agony–described to you my hunger and thirst after a higher and worthier existence–shown to you, not my _resolution_ (that word is weak), but my resistless _bent_ to love faithfully and well, where I am faithfully and well loved in return. Then I should have asked you to accept my pledge of fidelity and to give me yours. Jane–give it me now.”
“Why are you silent, Jane?”
I was experiencing an ordeal: a hand of fiery iron grasped my vitals. Terrible moment: full of struggle, blackness, burning! Not a human being that ever lived could wish to be loved better than I was loved; and him who thus loved me I absolutely worshipped: and I must renounce love and idol. One drear word comprised my intolerable duty–“Depart!”
“Jane, you understand what I want of you? Just this promise–‘I will be yours, Mr. Rochester.'”
“Mr. Rochester, I will _not_ be yours.”
Another long silence.
“Jane!” recommenced he, with a gentleness that broke me down with grief, and turned me stone-cold with ominous terror–for this still voice was the pant of a lion rising–“Jane, do you mean to go one way in the world, and to let me go another?”
“Jane” (bending towards and embracing me), “do you mean it now?”
“And now?” softly kissing my forehead and cheek.
“I do,” extricating myself from restraint rapidly and completely.
“Oh, Jane, this is bitter! This–this is wicked. It would not be wicked to love me.”
“It would to obey you.”
A wild look raised his brows–crossed his features: he rose; but he forebore yet. I laid my hand on the back of a chair for support: I shook, I feared–but I resolved.
“One instant, Jane. Give one glance to my horrible life when you are gone. All happiness will be torn away with you. What then is left? For a wife I have but the maniac upstairs: as well might you refer me to some corpse in yonder churchyard. What shall I do, Jane? Where turn for a companion and for some hope?”
“Do as I do: trust in God and yourself. Believe in heaven. Hope to meet again there.”
“Then you will not yield?”
“Then you condemn me to live wretched and to die accursed?” His voice rose.
“I advise you to live sinless, and I wish you to die tranquil.”
“Then you snatch love and innocence from me? You fling me back on lust for a passion–vice for an occupation?”
“Mr. Rochester, I no more assign this fate to you than I grasp at it for myself. We were born to strive and endure–you as well as I: do so. You will forget me before I forget you.”
“You make me a liar by such language: you sully my honour. I declared I could not change: you tell me to my face I shall change soon. And what a distortion in your judgment, what a perversity in your ideas, is proved by your conduct! Is it better to drive a fellow-creature to despair than to transgress a mere human law, no man being injured by the breach? for you have neither relatives nor acquaintances whom you need fear to offend by living with me?”
This was true: and while he spoke my very conscience and reason turned traitors against me, and charged me with crime in resisting him. They spoke almost as loud as Feeling: and that clamoured wildly. “Oh, comply!” it said. “Think of his misery; think of his danger–look at his state when left alone; remember his headlong nature; consider the recklessness following on despair–soothe him; save him; love him; tell him you love him and will be his. Who in the world cares for _you_? or who will be injured by what you do?”
Still indomitable was the reply–“_I_ care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad–as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?
They have a worth–so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane–quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot.”
I did. Mr. Rochester, reading my countenance, saw I had done so. His fury was wrought to the highest: he must yield to it for a moment, whatever followed; he crossed the floor and seized my arm and grasped my waist. He seemed to devour me with his flaming glance: physically, I felt, at the moment, powerless as stubble exposed to the draught and glow of a furnace: mentally, I still possessed my soul, and with it the certainty of ultimate safety. The soul, fortunately, has an interpreter–often an unconscious, but still a truthful interpreter–in the eye. My eye rose to his; and while I looked in his fierce face I gave an involuntary sigh; his gripe was painful, and my over-taxed strength almost exhausted.
“Never,” said he, as he ground his teeth, “never was anything at once so frail and so indomitable. A mere reed she feels in my hand!” (And he shook me with the force of his hold.) “I could bend her with my finger and thumb: and what good would it do if I bent, if I uptore, if I crushed her? Consider that eye: consider the resolute, wild, free thing looking out of it, defying me, with more than courage–with a stern triumph. Whatever I do with its cage, I cannot get at it–the savage, beautiful creature! If I tear, if I rend the slight prison, my outrage will only let the captive loose. Conqueror I might be of the house; but the inmate would escape to heaven before I could call myself possessor of its clay dwelling-place. And it is you, spirit–with will and energy, and virtue and purity–that I want: not alone your brittle frame. Of yourself you could come with soft flight and nestle against my heart, if you would: seized against your will, you will elude the grasp like an essence–you will vanish ere I inhale your fragrance. Oh! come, Jane, come!”
As he said this, he released me from his clutch, and only looked at me. The look was far worse to resist than the frantic strain: only an idiot, however, would have succumbed now. I had dared and baffled his fury; I must elude his sorrow: I retired to the door.
“You are going, Jane?”
“I am going, sir.”
“You are leaving me?”
“You will not come? You will not be my comforter, my rescuer? My deep love, my wild woe, my frantic prayer, are all nothing to you?”
What unutterable pathos was in his voice! How hard it was to reiterate firmly, “I am going.”
“Withdraw, then,–I consent; but remember, you leave me here in anguish. Go up to your own room; think over all I have said, and, Jane, cast a glance on my sufferings–think of me.”
He turned away; he threw himself on his face on the sofa. “Oh, Jane! my hope–my love–my life!” broke in anguish from his lips. Then came a deep, strong sob.
I had already gained the door; but, reader, I walked back–walked back as determinedly as I had retreated. I knelt down by him; I turned his face from the cushion to me; I kissed his cheek; I smoothed his hair with my hand.
“God bless you, my dear master!” I said. “God keep you from harm and wrong–direct you, solace you–reward you well for your past kindness to me.”
“Little Jane’s love would have been my best reward,” he answered; “without it, my heart is broken. But Jane will give me her love: yes–nobly, generously.”
Up the blood rushed to his face; forth flashed the fire from his eyes; erect he sprang; he held his arms out; but I evaded the embrace, and at once quitted the room.
“Farewell!” was the cry of my heart as I left him. Despair added, “Farewell for ever!”
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